Change the world



Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Dr Sibongile Muthwa, welcomed the 2016 first year students and their parents to NMMU during the Welcoming Ceremony, held on Saturday, 23 January.

We take this opportunity to warmly welcome all of you at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University this year, 2016. We greet all those who are participating in this event through live-streaming in a number of venues across our campuses, including our students, families and colleagues in George Campus. Namkelekile nonke!

This is a proud and defining event in our academic calendar when we welcome all parents, families and guardians and our first year students. This year we welcome more than 6000 first year students at this University. You have done yourself proud in being selected to study at NMMU out of more than 41 000 young people all over the country who applied to get a place to come and study at NMMU.

We thank you for choosing Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

You now form part of 27 000 strong student body, studying in 450 programmes and 130 career fields.

Through the serendipity of history, we have been bestowed with a great name. The name of Nelson Rohlihlahla Mandela bequeaths to us a lasting legacy, and we realise that it is also a name that comes with huge responsibility. The posture of our leadership, the integrity and rigour of our scholarship and the nurturing relationships we have with our students, our compassionate engagement with communities, as well as the attributes that our students project, are all testimony to, and reflect the values and principles of this great icon, Madiba.

At Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University our Vision is to be a dynamic African University, recognised for its leadership in generating cutting edge knowledge for a sustainable future. We offer a diverse range of quality educational opportunities that will make a critical and constructive contribution to regional, national and global sustainability.

We also strive to live out our distinctive and aspirational values of:

Respect for Diversity, Excellence, Ubuntu, Integrity, Respect for the Natural Environment and Taking Responsibility.

NMMU in brief

NMMU is a University for tomorrow. In 2015 our University celebrated 10 years after it was established, following the merger of our founding institutions, namely Vista University, the University of Port Elizabeth, and the Port Elizabeth Tecknikon. We are proud of the rich and diverse heritage that is our institution. We have continued to harness our diverse strengths to address and respond to complex challenges that society has placed on the academy in general, and are mindful of our particular developmental role that we have to play in our immediate region, of the Eastern and Southern Cape.  As we look into the future in the next ten years we are confident of our direction as we collectively craft a path that all those who have passed through our institution will continue to be proud of, long after they left NMMU.

Universities and the state of the higher education sector in 2015/2016

You would be aware that we start this year in a state of countrywide uncertainty   occasioned by the fees, access and quality education campaigns led by the student movement. Since around October 2015 you would have heard, read and watched news on the #FeesMustFall movement and related campaigns, which demanded a zero % or what we also refer to as “no fee increase” for 2016 as well as debt relief for historic debt, with a view we believe, to pursuing widened access to a university education and free higher education, at least for poor students, as an expression of the right to learn.

The fees demand was also later extended to cover what the students saw as exploitative and inhumane treatment of workers, particularly those employed by outsourced service companies contracted by universities.

The demand for no-fee increase and debt relief is in actual fact a demand for a more equal higher education system - a very noble and laudable demand which we fully support, and which itself is a reflection of a demand for a more equal social and economic system.

This wave of activism by students has brought into sharp focus, and forced open a dialogue and a discourse that are more about poverty and inequality as these play themselves out in the Higher Education Sector in this country. In this context, students have compelled a debate by the nation that goes beyond the narrow issue of inadequate funding of the higher education sector. They have re-asserted a need for a much more sober reflection on the direction, the nature, and the pace of transformation in post-apartheid South Africa.

This exposition by students has portrayed Universities, in particular as key sites where inequality and exclusions continue to play themselves out. To this end, students have also re-surfaced a conversation on decolonising (or transforming) the University. 

Notwithstanding our collective anxiety about the possible negative impact of the fees campaign on the economy and social cohesion in society, we believe that the campaign has, on the contrary, had a positive impact in that it has enabled all of us to debate issues of inequality, poverty and social justice. But we, in the Higher Education sector, (and one would imagine society at large), also hope that student visionaries behind the movement for change are cognisant that rights come with responsibilities. To this end, we hope that South African youth will continue to responsibly work alongside all segments of society to find a lasting solution to the exclusion and marginalisation challenges facing our country in general, and equality of access in the tertiary sector in particular.

More importantly, and as students have demonstrated in our University at least, we hope that they will continue to conduct themselves, and represent their  demands, within the indivisible human rights framework that is the promise of our Constitution.

Since 1994, student numbers at our Universities across the country have more than doubled, growing from 440 000 to 990 000, but the funding has essentially remained the same. The block grant provided by national government as core funding decreased in real terms and universities were squeezed to raise the difference on the back of fees. It’s a structural crisis in the system as a whole in South Africa. The Higher Education system relies on two sources of income – government subsidy (the block amount which was initially the major income driver) and student fees which were supposed to be the smaller proportion of income.  But from 1994, the portion from the Government subsidy has declined, forcing universities to raise fees to make up the difference to run the institutions.

I am sure you are also aware that as a result of the students’ campaign, government has agreed that there will be no fee increases for 2016. Government will provide some funding to each university to cushion the impact of this loss of revenue.  At NMMU the government will pick up 70% of the difference between the 0% increase demanded by students and the 9% fee increase that NMMU had initially budgeted for in 2016. The University then has to find ways and means to make up the 30% shortfall. This is going to require prudent re-prioritization within our available resources.

In addition, the President has announced a Commission that is to urgently look into the fees subsidy issue and to make structural interventions in the next few years.

But what are doing as NMMU and how are we dealing with these challenges?

NMMU is committed to widening access as far as is viably possible. In 2016 NMMU is offering a debt relief window and has suspended the upfront down payment for financially needy but academically deserving students, so that all those whose academic performance is sound are not prevented from pursuing their studies simply because of their economic circumstances and class positioning.

In line with our charter of values, we are also working hard to re-absorb the currently outsourced service functions and staff, namely, Cleaning, Catering, Gardening, Window cleaning and Security. Now that we are acutely aware of the exploitative and inhumane working conditions, seen largely in low wages, inadequate or no benefits, and casualization of menial work, the University cannot continue to outsource service labour. We have thus offered to raise the minimum wage levels, and have extended study and clinic benefits to staff currently employed by outsourced companies.

As we have indicated, implementing debt relief measures and reversing the outsourcing of services will, inevitably result in belt-tightening for 2016, 2017 and possibly 2018.   We will have to make do with the resources that we have in the system as well as working tirelessly to find and unlock new resources.

Studying at a University….: What difference does it make?

I will now address myself to our first year students in particular.

Besides the functional  reason of earning a University qualification in order to get a job, people might ask: What is the more lasting and transcendental value of University education? University education equips one to engage with evolving frontiers of discourse and new knowledge. The University executes its purpose through its three fundamental missions of Teaching and Learning, Research and Innovation, and Community Engagement. Through these missions, as students, and ultimately as graduates, university education will hone your critical thinking skills, and will give you an opportunity to engage in debates and shift paradigms that you or others might hold. University is also a place where innovation flourishes, new knowledge is created, and novel solutions are designed.

But also importantly, through community engagement, the University environment will provide you space to reflect on commanding challenges facing the world at this moment of our history, such as poverty, inequality, discrimination, environmental injustice and degradation, wars, human rights abuses, etc. This could be the only time in your life when all conducive conditions are in place for you to reflect deeply on the world as it is, and on the world as you would like it to be, and to choose your path in that journey, making your mark on society.

I now turn to what we in the university expect of you as our new students, and what we expect of parents, guardians and families.

These truths that I am about to share have over the years proved of immense value, and a cornerstone of student success.  

We expect students to:

  • Attend lectures – this is non-negotiable
  • Work consistently every day
  • Ask questions, be inquisitive
  • Meet deadlines for assignments
  • Use the library and internet facilities
  • Make use of our student support services
  • Be active - join a club/society; play a sport
  • Give back to the community through engagement projects
  • Pay fees and manage your finances carefully
  • Find that important balance between studies and a social activities
  • Lead a healthy life-style

We expect of parents, and hope that families will:

  • Provide emotional and social support
  • Make sure the home environment is conducive to learning
  • Have regular chats about what is happening in the academic life of your son or daughter
  • Encourage them to seek help as early as possible - don’t wait for the problem to grow
  • Be objective in assessing the rights and responsibilities of your son or daughter
  • Contact the Dean should there be any major concerns

We promise

  • To continue to offer and invest in quality education through our various teaching, learning, and research programmes
  • To provide support programmes that enable academic achievement and personal growth
  • To facilitate engagement opportunities that enable all round development of socially aware and responsive students involved in working in communities and working with community members to solve real community problems for the benefit of the immediate and greater society nationally and beyond
  • To produce knowledgeable, compassion and enterprising graduates capable of becoming leaders in chosen fields and professions

Programme Director, as I move to conclude, in order to advance our promise to a commitment, I will briefly address myself to the teachers, scholars and intelligentsia of our University.

While we continue to stand firmly grounded in our disciplinary expertise we have to also boldly embrace a transdiciplinary mindset and a possibility of validating knowledges beyond our immediate domains. The intractable problems that face the world today require solutions that cannot be found in a particular discipline. It is incumbent upon all of us to rise to the challenge and reach beyond our cognitive comfort zones, to create spaces and ask questions as to what it would be like to risk our long held paradigms, so that ours continues to be a breakthrough scholarship.

In conclusion

We do hope that today, this year, 2016 marks an important and memorable milestone for all our first year students. We do not promise that it will be easy, but we know it will be a time filled with memorable stages of growth and discovery. One of the lasting attributes that will serve you well whatever your life circumstances are at different points of your University career, and I daresay your life also, is to project common values of humanity.

Everyone hopes for the basics that most of us already have: high school education, clothes on our back, supportive family and friends, opportunity for tertiary education. There is always someone somewhere in the world that has less than what you already have.

Pause, spare some thought and seize your responsibility of contributing to a better world….

Enjoy. It will be unforgettable

We thank you all..